When we think of a massage, we generally tend to think of some slick beauty spa where angels in fitted white pyjamas and too much Christian Dior foundation waft around, gently administering perfumed oils in a highly dignified manner designed to melt your very fibres and leave your muscles dribbling from the edges of the massage table, yet still maintaining your self respect and the feeling that your delicate bits have gone un-bothered. The other sort of massage that springs to mind results in a “happy ending” and definitely involves bits being bothered, very much indeed.
The majority of us take for granted that when we hand over our hard earned dosh, blithely expecting the former massage variety, that that’s what we will get. What can happen, if you’re not careful, is rather a nasty surprise.
Someone once said to me that they had been to visit a Turkish Bath for a massage and had optimistic visions of being rubbed down by a nubile young lovely and that they were shocked and surprised to find themselves being man-handled by a love-handled man, much to their displeasure.
My associate’s naivety when it comes to Turkish massages almost makes me think they deserved what they got. Turkish baths are notorious for being horrific places where sweaty ex-wrestlers try to wrench your limbs off while some unidentifiable liquid drips on you from the ceiling from whence it had condensed. Nubile and lovely don’t even come in to it!
I have to admit though, in spite of my smugness, that even I have been caught unawares by the bearers-of-oil and all isn’t necessarily as it at first seems.
I went to Marrakech earlier this year and on the recommendation of a local, visited a hammam. I was prepared for the worst (thoughts of Turkish bath style limb removal and being whipped with soggy birch twigs sprang to mind) but thought I’d give it a brave-faced whirl and what I received was a surprisingly comforting, if slightly overly-intimate experience.
There wasn’t one part of my body that wasn’t steamed, scrubbed, soaped, pummeled and oiled to the point of heavenly cleanliness and skin so soft you could have mistaken it for belonging to the proverbial baby’s buttock (but without the faeces filled nappy casing).
The woman performing the ritual managed to lay her hands on parts of me usually reserved for the doctor, or men of whom I’m particularly fond and it would have been traumatic had she not been so matter of fact and matronly about the whole thing that it became almost a regressive experience, reminiscent of when my mother used to bathe me as a wee nipper – albeit with less singing of nursery rhymes and one of my siblings didn’t burst in unannounced to use the toilet.
While this foreign style of massage was far from conventional, it was surprisingly rather pleasant and I would recommend it to one and all (other than those seeking the happy ending of a more adult variety, for which I have been “reliably” informed, a trip to Soho and an extra twenty pounds should see you right). The same could not be said of my most recent spa visit and I use the term “spa” very loosely. This was the surprise massage style you don’t want to get.
After entering a safe enough-looking independent beauty salon in Marylebone, I ended up being led down to some grubby basement with no soothing hippy pan pipe music, no aromatherapy vapours, no overly-glossed bimbo as per the usual London spas and not even the butch Muslim mother figure as per the Moroccan hammam. I instead ended up on a rickety folding table with a small Indian woman using her sandpaper coated claws to jab and whack at me in a very inconsistent manner that made me question if I had perhaps offended her on a previous meeting.
Throughout this violation, she repeatedly asked in a proud tone if I was enjoying the experience and I couldn’t detect even the merest hint of sarcasm or doubt in her voice. The woman was serious!?! I thought telling her “no” may inflame the situation so I just clung on to the ominously creaky massage table and prayed for her to stop touching my rump with quite so much enthusiasm.
When she’d had her fill of mauling what was left of my carcass, she moved on to an incredibly bizarre head massage that I feared would leave me with severe brain damage or at the very least, with bald patches, after which, I was treated to a bout of eyebrow threading. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the technique of threading, twisted strands of cotton are used to rip hairs out of your face with brutal accuracy. This was the relaxing part of my visit.
On leaving the dungeon of torture I thought with great relief that I had left the misery behind me but no, it was set to linger a while longer and boy, did it linger.
I became aware of a distinctly familiar smell and noted that it was coming from me. I say it was familiar and yet it was oddly unfamiliar because it was curiously out of place and not something usually found emanating from my person… It hit me – olive oil!!!! I had basically had a rub down with salad dressing and I then had to travel the length of the London underground rail system with my hair slicked flat to my injured scalp and a slightly odd hue of green due to the liberal application of an inordinate amount of extra virgin!!!
Not only did this “beauty treatment” teach me that not all massages are equal, but as I had purchased this “treatment” with a Groupon discount voucher, it thoroughly drove home the point that you really do get what you pay for and in this case, I’d had £29.00-worth of unsaturated-fat based physical abuse.
In future I think I’ll avoid surprise massage outcomes and stick with the pyjama-clad bimbos.